Have You Hooked Your Readers?

Remember the last time you glanced at a magazine article—then flipped the page.

Now remember that piece you couldn’t put down. You emailed copies and told friends about it. That’s the kind of writing editors seek.

An article has perhaps ten seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Editors want articles that grab readers—and hold them to the end. Great topics aren’t enough. Ask yourself, “Would I read my article if someone else had written it?” Sure your mom, your spouse, or your best friend would . Editors want articles everyone else wants to read.

Editors want writing that breathes life into a topic—not that rehashes material they’ve already seen. Proposing an article about Christmas? Make it different than the “Let’s Put Christ Back into Christmas” article that you, the editor, and her readers have seen countless times.

The same for other important but perennial topics such as supporting missionaries, opposing abortion, or strengthening marriage. Take a fresh approach. Make the lead paragraph surprising.

Some years back, Focus on the Family printed “When Feathers Fly” by Janet E. Pratt, which examined principles couples could use to resolve conflicts.

The application points were standard. But Pratt hooked readers with an anecdotal lead in which she describes needing to cooperate with her husband (to whom she wasn’t speaking) to haul off the carcass of a dead ostrich. (Maybe a ho-hum lead for Today’s Ostrich Rancher, but for Focus, it was arresting.)

As Pratt concludes her anecdote, readers stick with her as she turns the corner: “Immediately afterward, as I showered off the dead bird smell, it occurred to me that the principles of handling conflicts in a marriage are a lot like the mechanics of dealing with a dead ostrich. …”

If your topic is worth reading about, find a fresh way to approach it. Include a dramatic quote from a neighbor or an expert. Perhaps you have a memory of an argument with a co-worker that prompted you to see a Scripture verse in a fresh way.

Once you’ve hooked a reader, maintain her interest with good writing: concrete nouns, vivid verbs, sentence variety, specific examples, and consistent, logical development. You don’t need gimmicks.

Christian editors (and readers) look for accounts that find a topic’s human dimension, apply God’s living Word, then convey that information in simple, straightforward language.

Earn a reputation for that kind of writing, and editors will welcome your next article.

Andy Scheer, former editor of Moody Magazine, is CWG’s editor-in-chief and also works as a freelance editor and a literary agent.

Photo credit: © Julian Addington-barker | Dreamstime.com

Comments

  1. Janet Pratt says

    Hey, thanks for the mention! I was floored when I came across this. An actual jaw-drop moment. I was looking for an archived online copy of the actual article to email to a friend.
    You made my day.

    • CWGadmin says

      Janet:

      Happy to make your day–especially considering how many times I’ve cited your article in writers conference workshops. Were you able to find an online copy of the article somewhere?

      Andy Scheer

      • Janet Pratt says

        Wow! That’s just amazing. I haven’t written anything for publication in a long time. I just write things for myself about what’s on my mind. I haven’t submitted anything in years. My family is always on me about it, saying I should be sending things out. Now that I’ve told them this, they’re REALLY on me.
        The article was online about 5 years ago, but since then, its dropped out of sight. I did find it on a Chinese site, but that doesn’t help me! My Chinese is limited to menu items.
        Thanks again!

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